WTVJ reporter Jeff Burnside was fired Friday after being involved in editing a tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call before he shot Trayvon Martin. Burnside, who has been with the NBC owned and operated Miami station for 13 years, still has a bio page on its website.
“As anybody in the news business knows, something that seems very clear is often very, very complicated,” Burnside said by phone this evening. “I have nothing but great things to say about the NBC team.”
The WTVJ video, though edited similarly, was not the one that aired on NBC’s “Today” show, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The video that aired on the “Today” show actually came from NBC’s Southeast headquarters, also based in south Florida.
The “Today” show video removed context from Zimmerman’s conversation with a 911 operator. The original call transcript said:
Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
The edit changed Zimmerman’s words to: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
NBC fired a producer for the “Today” show video on April 5 and has apologized for it, but declined to say how the edit occurred; Erik Wemple called the mea culpa “skimpy” and David Carr said the edit was a “remarkable lapse in editorial process that inflamed a highly emotional issue, and it created suspicion that journalists and media outlets were picking sides.” He wondered why NBC didn’t issue an on-air correction. Jim Treacher posts a screenshot of what he says is a deleted tweet by WTVJ reporter Christina Hernandez claiming the 911 call came to the station in the edited form. But two sources told us the station and NBC’s Southeast headquarters received the unedited tape directly from the Sanford police.
A phone call to WTVJ’s newsdesk was immediately patched through to a spokesman for the NBC-owned stations who said only, “As a result of our investigation an employee involved in editing the tape is no longer at the station.”
It is unclear whether anyone else at WTVJ has been disciplined in the matter.
Burnside tweeted photos from a Sanford, Fla., rally on March 26, and also mentioned he’d be on the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts that day. Martin, 17, was killed in central Florida, but he lived in Miami and attended high school there.
Burnside’s station bio says he won three awards in 2007 for his investigative reporting: an Investigative Reporters and Editors Certificate, the National Press Club Award, and the Clarion Award.
Correction: This post originally stated that the WTVJ edited video aired on the “Today” show. It did not. The edited video that aired on “Today” came from NBC’s Southeastern headquarters.